Make more space by arranging the new and tossing out the old

CJ Coombs

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I remember the year the magazine, Real Simple, came out. I loved the name because I got pulled into that word, Simple. I liked the nice clean images and ideas found inside about being organized. I would look at a page and think, “wow, that’s a cool idea.” The magazine at the time had fewer ads and it was unlike others on the stands then.

I would save my copies to implement good ideas for later. In two years, I had a stack of copies and eventually canceled my subscription. It took me over 10 years to let the copies go. It was time to downsize.

Marie Kondo

Who doesn’t love Marie Kondo? I still remember hearing about her and her book, Spark Joy. Even though I was already on my way to downsizing, her ideas filtered into my life. I’m also a perfectionist, but don’t assume a perfectionist (me) never has some unnecessary clutter.

When I first started downsizing, I referred to it as “getting organized,” and “letting go.” Even then, I was organizing all this material by placing it into bins of categories. Much of that is now gone but there is stuff I could say goodbye to. At least I started on that journey of getting rid of so much stuff I didn’t need or could live without. And you might ask yourself when you go through your stuff, “why didn’t I do this sooner?”

What happens when you downsize?

You have thinking space.

As a writer, when I clean off the top of my desk such as getting rid of junk mail, putting literature books back on the shelf, getting coffee cups into the sink, nail polish put away — I could go on but you don’t need to have a picture of me being disorganized — when I take care of those items, I think much better because they are distractions. Even little distractions pull from being creative.

When you have unnecessary stuff in your life, they build up into ounces of a burden you begin to carry on your shoulders. Lose the unnecessary stuff and the sooner the better.

Probably the most significant effect of downsizing you might notice first is you immediately know where things are. You no longer spend an hour looking for something. And even if you have stuff stored away in a few bins, if you didn’t label those bins accordingly, well, you guessed it. Of course, you gain extra space — that should be your redundant advice.

Sometimes, too, when you move, you’ll probably come across a box or more of things still sealed with tape that you had from a previous move. Why carry it from one place to another? Get rid of it because you didn’t miss it if you forgot you even had it.

One statement of Kondo I found interesting and appealing was that if an item wasn’t bringing you a sense of joy, what was the point of holding on to it? You look at the item, and it either goes in the “gives me joy” pile or the “donate/give away” pile. Some things can even go in a trash bin pile.

Most of my books from college got dropped into a garage sale and people bought them. I went to college in my 40s so it wasn’t like the books were extremely outdated or decades old. And getting rid of them cleared out space.

How to get rid of that clutter and why you have it

When my desk builds up with clutter, I can honestly call that procrastination because I know in one quick move I can take care of it later. Writing is my priority, so it always becomes a “later duty.” I’m trying to fix that by performing it at the end of each day.

I’m generally a very organized person, but even the best of us still have stuff that can either go be with someone else or be donated. I have a son who is sentimental about things so I’m careful in giving him anything because I know it’s hard for him to let go of the past.

I have some things of my parents, chiefly photographs, I won’t let go of. I have some small items that will get passed to my children or grandchildren. Most of all the big things have been gone for a while. Since I live with my daughter’s family, almost all of my large items were donated or sold, or given away.

And slowly, I go through bins of stuff. Interestingly, this stuff used to be in boxes and I found by going through the boxes, I could reorganize the stuff and put it into bins as well as toss out some of the stuff. Well, I still have too many bins. I have seven bins of holiday decor that are getting my attention this month.

We hang onto stuff for emotional reasons. If there’s no logical reason or practical sense as to why you still have that picture you painted in middle school, it’s okay to say goodbye to it. No one will be upset with you. Or that flour sifter that has a broken handle you still use by tapping the side of it. Throw it away and buy a new one if necessary.

‘The Minimalists’

According to The Minimalists, Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, “Organizing is just well-planned hoarding.” They have a point. Like Kondo to a large extent, if what you have — all your stuff — isn’t bringing additional value to your life, let it go (you know, like Elsa sang in the movie, Frozen).

No matter how organized we are, we must continue to care for the stuff we organize, cleaning and sorting our methodically structured belongings. When we get rid of the superfluous stuff, we can focus on life’s more important aspects: we can spend the day focusing on our health, on our relationships, on pursuing our passions — or we can reorganize the basement again. (Source.)

How do you let go of something that is sentimental?

I guess I could safely say both of my adult children and I are sentimental soft hoarders. That doesn’t mean we have a garage full of stuff from floor to ceiling. There’s just some extra stuff we could let go of. I prefer the term, saver, instead of a hoarder. There is a very distinct difference.

If you’re hanging on to stuff that emotion is the deciding tool you use to question whether or not you should let go of something, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is this one thing something I will ever use again?
  • Do I genuinely love this thing so much I can’t let it go?
  • Why do I need this thing to be with me forever?
  • What do I plan to use this for?

When you part with something, don’t let it be an emotional experience and by that, I mean don’t let emotion be the sole deciding factor. If you didn’t want to let go of those fuzzy socks because someone close to you gave them as a gift, you’ll still have the memory, so letting go of them is okay. And for God’s sake, if they have holes in them, what’s the point in keeping them?

Another thing you have to consider is who gets all the stuff you’ve been hanging onto when you’re gone?

If there is no real value in an item, the burden of the decision will be left with somebody else. You don’t want that, do you? If that happens, the cycle could continue because whoever got your stuff might hang on to it simply because you gave it to them.

Just leave the photographs that came from the pre-digital age with family members. The photos are priceless and everything else has value in a garage sale, or can easily be donated. If you make scrapbooks, give them to the appropriate person now.

The simple things to get rid of now

Mail — Sometimes when people collect their mail when they get home, they might open it and leave it on a desk or counter. If it’s unnecessary mail, throw it away. If you need to keep the contents, get rid of the envelope. Don’t make it a habit of having empty envelopes build up. If you pay your bills online, start requesting electronic versions of statements to limit the amount of paper coming into your house.

Coupons and receipts — We are probably all guilty of this. Don’t hang onto coupons you might think you’ll use next week, but probably won’t. Put your “probably won’t” stuff in the trash bin. Don’t leave grocery receipts hanging around. You won’t be returning your milk, will you? Toss it. These are habits to be easily broken.

File bins — Go through manilla folders you’ve been hanging onto and which you probably forgot what’s inside of them. Get it on your calendar which day you plan to deal with that, you know, magazine clippings of articles or craft ideas or recipes. I have three separate manilla folders of recipes I’ve been saving. What for? I need to pull out the meaningful ones I know I will make. I don’t know why I keep recipes that call for cheese because I do not like cheese.

Broken ceramic items — Years ago, I used to have this long shelf on the wall containing various ceramic items that my children made in elementary school. One evening, the shelf gave and all the items fell and rolled down the stairs with some of them breaking. I collected them all and put them in a box.

Of course, it was sentimental. Years passed, and during the isolation in 2020, I got that box out and glued every ceramic creation that was broken. I gave my daughter her stuff and when I told my son’s wife I fixed his stuff, she said, “You go ahead and keep it.” I understood why. My son doesn’t need any more sentimental stuff to hang onto either.

These are examples of things to let go of because I still have the memory. I can take a picture of the pieces and pop the images on the flash drive or store them in Shutterfly that has my 6,000+ photos.

If you have anything that is broken, just say goodbye to it.

Empty photo frames — Fill them, give them away, or lose them.

Collections of things — I have a box of rubber stamps for making cards. They are finally going to a friend who makes cards all the time. If you have a collection of things and you know of someone who will make use of them sooner than you will, say goodbye to them. My postcard collection stays because that represents more than mere memories.

Make-up from that make-up club you joined — During 2020, I joined Ipsy because I thought it would be fun to get that cute little bag of surprises every month. It was an emotional decision for a challenging year. So I have all these bags now. Some of the make-up was worth it and what won’t get used is going, going, gone. I canceled the membership in early 2021. If you joined any club for an emotional reason, rethink that reason and cancel membership for a valid reason.

Clothing — So that shirt you loved three years ago is either too big or too small for you. Please donate it. There are even places you can sell your recent purchases or slightly worn items to. That “maybe I can wear that in a few months” item needs to go now. Don’t underestimate garage sales. My children collectively made about $900 in a spring sale. Whatever doesn’t sell is given away and not brought back into the house.

Regarding any item for children, if you have a lot of clothing, toys, or furniture, consider selling at Just Between Friends if there’s an event in your area. They get a certain percentage from your total sell, but if you work it one day, that percentage decreases. It’s worth the preparation time it if you have many items.

The bigger things to get rid of

At one point, I had a small storage unit with furniture that belonged to my parents. I gave some of it to my children and sold the rest in a garage sale. I remember the two high-back chairs that were sold to a bookstore for their reading area. Sometimes I allow regret to enter my mind on those chairs, but I remember them and they went to a good place, so I’m good.

If you have large items that take up space, again, remove your emotion from the decision as to whether you should let go of them. Sell or donate these items. Even if you bought a large item from someone, you can still resale it to someone else.

Consider selling locally online through resources like the Facebook Marketplace, or having a garage sale (or participate in your neighborhood annual sale). Never underestimate the effects of a garage sale.

Whether you call it cleaning, organizing, decluttering, or getting rid of stuff, look around you now and make a list of how you’re going to start tackling this task today because tomorrow is another word for procrastination.

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30 years of legal secretarial experience, and a BA in Eng Journalism & Creative Writing. Thinker, giver, and lover of life. Born into Air Force service life, my life has taken me to Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Missouri. I love family, art, truth, non-fiction, reading, history, and travel.

Kansas City, MO
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